“Finding and understanding the beauty in imperfections is what nature and natural products is all about,” says Rabi Chandra Malla, founder of Kolpa, who is as equally inspiring as his venture. Kolpa has been offering exclusive and exotic products representing the diverse culture of Nepal for almost 6 years now and the way they operate is what makes them different.
Read on to know more about this larger than life venture.
1. How did Kolpa start?
I am an IT graduate from New York but when I came back, rather than doing a 9 to 5 job, I wanted to do something for Nepal and I very well knew that entering the IT field wouldn’t lead me to what I wanted. In the process, I found that the skills, natural resources, materials were abundant here in Nepal which were underutilized. Plus, the people who used these materials to make beautiful and aesthetic products were not getting the needed market and fair price. This strongly validated the change I felt that was needed and hence to ensure that change and to help people from the very bottom I started Kolpa in 2014.
2. Wasn’t it difficult to switch from being an IT graduate to a social entrepreneur?I wouldn’t say it was tough choosing this path, I had always wanted to do this. In life you always need to feel content. For this you need to do what makes you feel at peace and being the owner of Kolpa gives me that. Further, I have integrated my IT knowledge here at Kolpa, I have designed an online store through which Kolpa has reached different places around the world. Also, since IT requires being well updated, I am always aware about the global trend. So, my IT background basically has provided me with a broad horizon and perspective to run Kolpa.
3. What exactly does Kolpa do?
We do two things here at Kolpa- we produce and promote the products, those that are produced using Nepali raw materials by the Nepalese. Moreover, the craftsmen’s that we work with, have super fine skills but the only problem is that the skills are not at par with the market requirement, so Kolpa works in adding value and designing the products. Our artisans and craftsmen then produces them. That is how the production of all the exotic products at Kolpa takes place.
Likewise, we have grown seeing our grandparents producing both equally beautiful and durable products that have the demand but sadly are not getting or reaching the market. So, Kolpa also works in promoting those products.
4. How do you maintain the standards of the products?
We make sure that all the products that are produced are made in a way that the artisans and craftsmen would themselves use. We focus on durability so the products are produced not just for the sake of selling but for providing value to the customers and this helps us to maintain the standards. Further when working with new artisans, we give them the necessary suggestions, feedback and time which helps us get what we are looking for, the finest quality products. So this is how we have been maintaining the quality standards.
5. Where does the production take place?
The majority of our production takes place in Bhaktapur; hand knitting, crochet is done by stay at home moms, single moms from Baluwatar area. In addition to this, the production also takes place in Thimi, Sindhupalchowk, Nawalparasi, Dolpa and many more places.
6. Can you tell us about the raw materials that goes into producing the products?We use raw materials found in Nepal like Himalayan Wild Nettle (Allo), Corn Husk (makaiko khosta), Typha (Pater), Leather from Sindhupalchowk, Hemp from Rolpa, Alaichi from Taplejung. Likewise, we are also working with Raute people from Dailekh, we mostly get wooden products from them. We also get sheep wool, yak wool from Dolpa, we also have Munj made in Nawalparasi, we use Cane (Ningalo) to make baskets that comes from Darchula.
7. What makes Kolpa unique?
Our products have the “aafnopan”. They represent Nepal and its people, their culture, traditions, skills that are en rooted in across Nepal. Also our products, production process and operation in general doesn’t harm anyone; neither the nature nor the customers. Likewise, from the origin of the material to the end of the product everyone is benefiting in every level. Furthermore, we are also helping the environment directly and indirectly, corn husk which would otherwise have been burnt down is being used as the raw materials, so we are also adding value be it through financial empowerment of grassroots level people or be it through preservation and promotion of cultures found across Nepal. Moreover, despite being handmade, we make sure that our products are durable. So, these are some of the things that make us unique.
8. Who are your major target customers?
Individuals who are environment conscious, who value cultures and traditions are our target customers. Likewise, we are mainly focused on the international market as of now. But we do sell our products to hotels here in Nepal.
9. You talked out the skills that the older generation have. So, what do you think needs to be done to keep these skills alive?
The skills are super fine. If we are able to commercialize this, then Nepal has a huge scope and this is an opportunity for the younger generation to commercialize this market. So, preserving the skills is vital and for this I personally think that trainings should be provided to the younger generation, it can be included in the school curriculum. In addition to this, generally the skills are transferred from urban to rural areas, that also needs to be reversed. And through Kolpa I want to promote, ensure and make the youths believe that all skills that our grandparents have are highly valuable.
10. What are the major challenges for you and how do you think they can be mitigated?
There are no incentives from the government’s side, we are just another business for them and this is disheartening and lack of support is a problem. Likewise, logistic would be another. We use raw materials from all over Nepal and there are still places that are not accessible by vehicles, so the materials have to be physically carried. Hence, call centers from the government level, I think will mitigate this issue to some extent. Also, we are planning on having storerooms in the places where the majority of our raw materials come from. In addition to this, people have the misconception that Nepalese product should be cheap, they bargain a lot. But once we bargain, the people at the grassroots level, their hard work will not get the value. So it is another issue for us. And also since the raw materials come from the wild and with limited human resources, we have difficulty in having mass production.
11. What are your future plans?
We are planning on using advanced tools and technologies for a few steps but while doing this we will make sure that the interference is minimal because we don’t want the beauty and exclusivity of the products that we have now is lost.
Likewise, I also want to create a digital application that can be used by our artisans and craftsmen living in different places across Nepal to make communication more effective between them and us. And this is surely going to decrease the lag time to a great extent.
In addition, through Kolpa, I want to communicate and transfer the skills, raw materials and people themselves from one part of Nepal to other so that they are employed throughout the year.
12. How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?
I had zero business knowledge when I started but I had the determination and passion to do good for Nepal and for the world as a whole. So, I started out and produced cotton bags mainly targeting the youths, then I started identifying the skills inside and outside Kathmandu, started working with differently able people, financially challenged women and after gaining knowledge about the Nepalese business and manufacturing sector. Then I started working with natural fibers produced here in Nepal. And in this journey till now I have learned a lot, I have developed and enhanced my skills and my knowledge horizon. So it has been fun and everything has been worth it.
13. Any other information you’d like to share with us?
We have to value those things that we have. Westernization and modernization shouldn’t make our ancient knowledge and skills extinct. They are our identity and losing ones’ identity doesn’t make sense. So valuing and believing in the glory these natural materials and the skills is what is needed. Also, we need to have a broad mindset, stop following others, do things differently and independently and embrace the risk and uncertainty that comes with it.
For more information, check out their website- Kolpa or connect with them on Facebook here. Here are some more details:
Phone number 977.9851162725
Sore location: Jhamsikhel-3, Jhamsikhel Marg, Lalitpur
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya